Sonic & Tails "Я" Us
Okay, since the whole "Sonic & Tails R" thing is being dredged up again, I've taken the opportunity to look back at our various direct messages, and I’m now prepared to deliver a formal response, including some moments of where I went wrong. It’s worth noting that the production team and I had already reached an agreement that my earlier mini-screed would be my final word on the matter, but since Doryan has chosen to air some dirty laundry, I guess it's my turn to put some unmentionables up on the line as well.
Let’s start with the TL;DR: The Sonic & Tails R team remains blameless in this situation. If you’re attacking them because I went unpaid, your attacks are misguided, to say the least, and y’all can cease and desist. As we’ll discover, I was never expecting to be paid for a fan project, nor would I expect most fan projects to be able to pony up industry-standard rates. As will become apparent, I was clearly not paying proper attention initially, and my middle-aged memories have faded over the last few years since this all started. But at the same time, I was not prepared for the full scope of what was involved, and what was expected of me, and did not set my own limits for what I was willing to do. So let’s review.
In April, 2020, I had the initial conversation with Ryan Drummond, who invited me to participate. Yes, in fact, he told me it would be "[j]ust a few minutes each [episode] with a maximum of 10 episodes.… recording one several minute script per week for 10 weeks… something fun we could all do from our homes just as a little gift to the fans."
My first mistake was not paying close attention to—and remembering—those details. Usually my agents and managers are there for that, but they don’t typically butt into fan projects. And usually there are contracts involved where details like the specific number of episodes are laid out a little more firmly.
Admittedly, the "10 episodes" part sounded easy enough when texted, and since this was a fan project, and destined to be unpaid, didn't fully sink in at the time, and the full script wasn’t even written and ready yet, but I expressed interest, even though I normally avoid participating in fan projects, for the very reason I brought to the team, specifically: "Since I've still got my name on some signature line, I'd want to clear it with the social media team before proceeding to avoid any issues." I had offered up a few sound-alike choices, but I was still their top selection. And with the pandemic raging, this project seemed likely to bring great joy to fans everywhere.
I was told the team spoke with SEGA "and they gave the thumbs up to participate if you like/can/want. So it’s up to you!"
I independently verified that with SEGA, and they said they, "[t]old her that would be up to you! [We] dont [sic] mind but just want to be cautious about setting precedent in the future"
The operative words there being "setting precedent," and a dangerous one at that.
The team later clarified, "Yes! [We] spoke with [SEGA] about it. (: And we were given the okay to knock it out!"
Now, let me state for the record: at no time was payment discussed, nor expected. It's a fan project, after all, so pro bono is the norm. I decided it would be my pandemic gift.
The more recent revelation that the team wasn't allowed to pay me without jeopardizing my contract was not mentioned, according to my records, so I was all in, as long as it was relatively quick and painless.
Now, the problem was, it looked quick and painless in the initial proposal, and on the early pages of the script. The first half-hour session in April, 2020, was pretty cut-and-dry, as I recall.
But then came the second session in July, 2020, which ran about two hours. Director Doryan thanked me for a job well done, and told me he’d talk to me at the next session. “Next session?” I thought. “How many more of these are there?” I had already forgotten in the intervening three months, which were already filled with several other projects, each with their own terms and conditions fighting for my brain's attention. I didn't express my surprise out loud, because after two decades of doing this kind of work, I’m used to projects dragging on, and my post-session inner monologue had already turned to what I was going to get from Starbucks.
Many months passed before the third and final session in March, 2021. Plenty of time for me to forget even more of those so-long-ago details. (Apologies for my having misremembered that there were four sessions in previous discussions. I hadn’t combed through the calendar like I did for this screed.)
It was during that third and final first-season recording, with the intensity ramping up, and me yelling myself hoarse just as I would do in a typical paid session, that my internal monologue had an epiphany along the lines of, "What the hell am I doing? This is why we actors fight for fair compensation and hazard pay in video game sessions," because this project had become vocally stressful. It was at that moment that my SEGA contracts flashed before my eyes and I realized that the whole point of turning my acting passion into a profession was that a company had enough faith in me to hire me, have me scream my brains out in the name of theater, and then pay me handsomely when I was done. If my contract with SEGA was supposed to be exclusive, why was I suddenly doing what they usually hire me to do, but for someone else, and for free? And to reiterate, the point wasn’t the lack of payment per se, but that our hefty talent fees are supposed to be a line item in SEGA’s well-funded budget. It wouldn’t be proper to have someone else hire me without SEGA’s express written consent (which isn’t quite what I got out of the “we don’t mind” via text). And if I demonstrate that I’m willing to do the same thing SEGA pays me for, but for free, why should SEGA have to hire me at all? The whole thing started to feel very, very wrong, hitting me right in the conscience. It’s like your parents saying, “go ahead, run away from home,” and after a few hours of seeing if the grass really is greener on the other side of the street, you start regretting ever leaving the safety and comforts of home. So I vowed to myself that working for free would not be viable in the future, especially if there was a contractual conflict at stake. I had realized I was making what we might consider my biggest mistake of this whole situation. But I had given my word, and I’m a man of my word. Since I had already committed to donating my time, that's exactly what I continued to do in this instance, thanks to my late-20th-Century work ethic.
EDIT: Since it was the final session, I decided "the show must go on," and I chose not to discuss my concerns and just press on until the session wrapped. I've done the same in the past with other clients whose sessions were less-than-perfect, or whose practices were less than ethical and not in line with industry standards. Typically, if there's a problem during a session, I'd complete the session as quickly and safely as possible, then contact my agent, manager or Union representative as soon as I could to have them deal with the situation. None of them were involved, so I decided instead to keep quiet and carry on, and learn a lesson for next time. As for this fan project. We were done. Just let it go. So I did, and wished them nothing but the best. And my lingering hoarseness left me mostly sidelined for a couple of days, as is usually the case after a lot of over-the-top yelling. Then I was good to go.
But back to that precedent-setting we mentioned earlier.
Fans are clever and curious creatures. Knowing my usual stance against fan projects, several people on Twitter asked why I was involved with this one. My response was that I hadn't asked the right questions, or more accurately, remembered the information that I had read. And again, in retrospect, I should have insisted on keeping things cameo-sized: a handful of lines in a single episode. But I didn’t.
As a freelancer, I'm constantly juggling multiple projects, and I don't usually have to remember all the details of each one because there are contracts in place (not this time) or my agents or managers have negotiated a deal and vetted the client (not this time) and I'm reasonably clear on the terms and conditions (not this time). But between the time I was first contacted in March of 2020, and the time fans started grilling me in February of 2023, I had apparently forgotten more than I remembered, like the part about up-to-10 episodes, so that's why I said that "how long is the commitment" is one of the questions i didn't ask. I already had—and had forgotten—that answer.
Once more for the people in the back, this isn't about money. Session paychecks can easily reach four figures, and that money usually comes from the intellectual property's owners. Our contracts dictate who asks us to voice what characters for whom, and who's responsible for payment. We can get away with the occasional cameo or charitable donation of our choosing, but extended free work can't happen. It's unseemly and bad for business.
I chose to speak out to staunch the potential flow of people asking me to be part of their fan project and/or to work for free. Coincidentally in April, 2020, right as “Sonic & Tails R” was getting underway, I was also getting involved with the Coalition of Dubbing Actors, whose specific mission is to bring attention to the standards and hazards of our industry, and the importance of knowing one’s worth, requiring fair wages and (perhaps most relevant here,) not working for free.
Once again, I had no expectation of payment for this project, and refused to accept the honorarium that was later offered, because the only thing that raises eyebrows more than a professional actor working for free is being the only paid performer in a cast of volunteers. And in my case, going back on my word.
If you're looking for a fall guy, you can point fingers at me for not having the business foresight to anticipate the amount of vocal stress that would come my way in this project, and my growing reliance on fair compensation for the work I do. I should have been more specific with my limitations on this project, something that my agent or manager usually assists with if there is money on the line (although as I’ve mentioned, probably not for a fan project).
This project is done. It's water under the bridge, and I wish the team all the success in the world. And as I love to say: in 500 years, no one will know or care.
Folks that are engaging in targeted harassment are doing so under false pretenses, and should call off the dogs. The problem is not “Mike should have been paid,” the problem is that small business people like Mike shouldn’t be giving their services away for free, especially when those services are already under contract to someone else.
EDIT: So, as I look to the future, after all I've learned, there will only be extremely limited circumstances in which I will choose to donate my time, and those instances will likely come with restrictions on two possible definitions of volume: the number of lines (probably five or fewer), and the loudness of my voice (vocally stressful dialog will be given away sparingly). Dipping into my apparently bottomless bag of analogies, we find: Baskin-Robbins will happily give you a bunch of free tastes, but don’t expect a free hot fudge sundae. And my samples are more likely to be a line or two at a public appearance, so please don't expect five-for-free for your own production, since I said in my earlier statement, no fan projects.
EDIT: And in a related improvement, all work, both paid and the occasional aforementioned unpaid, must be accompanied by some form of personal services agreement and release, so all parties know what's expected of whom, how I'll be compensated, and how my output can be used. I sign those sorts of documents all the time, and they're invaluable for resolving, or better yet avoiding, disputes. From now on, I plan to make sure the right people are requesting and financing the intellectual property being used, per my contracts.
EDIT: In the year that passed between the first S&T:R session and the third, my involvement in CODA made me hyper-aware of the value of our Industry Standards, so in retrospect, I'm not all surprised that things coalesced in my head during that session to make me realize I had gotten in too deep without having taken the proper precautions. In the end, the decisions I made left me feeling more than a little ill-at-ease, and that could have been avoided if I had insisted on more formal negotiations, or if I had politely declined. When I the Twitterati asked about my experience with the project two years later, I proceeded to air my frustrations publicly, rather than privately during the session. My intention was to make sure the experience I had wouldn't be repeated, so I was trying to make a point for the benefit of anyone else who might ask me for something similar in the the future. But I forgot that the Twitterverse can't read my thoughts, and their perceptions were very different.
NEW: Which brings us to the topic of an apology, which many people have requested, and I haven't given. Until now. I hadn't connected the questions I was being asked with the organized harassment campaign that was being directed towards the S&T:R team about other matters. It hadn't occurred to me that the frustrations I shared, which were really directed at myself and the different choices I could have made, we're given a slightly different context and weaponized as another prong in this ruthless harassment campaign. Cries and hashtags of the presumably well-meaning "Pay Mike!" were hurled at the team, which was something I didn't anticipate, and certainly didn't want. As I've explained herein, I expected to donate my time. Payment from anyone other that SEGA would've been entirely inappropriate, and the lack of payment wasn't the central issue. My involvement in S&T:R was like playing a game with only half a rulebook. Problems arose that none of us could have predicted. I suppose the harassers would've been better off hopping into their time machines and chanting, "Mike, negotiate better!" because in fact, I didn't ask, and didn't want the public's help on this matter. There was no better possible resolution. The team and I had fixed it. I still want to avoid such problems in the future, which is why I spoke out, but I don't ever recall in the last quarter-century having asked for crowdsourced negotiating assistance ("hey, guys, my agent is having a bear of a time striking out this 'in perpetuity' language; any suggestions?"), nor would I. That just isn't done. If you think using me as harassment fodder is helping anyone or anything, you're not helping. And maybe think of a better way to express your dissatisfaction with people than through cyberbullying. No matter how old you are, we're not living on a school playground. Nobody should have to endure harassment, online or in-real-life.
NEW: So, to Emi, Doryan, and Ryan, please accept my sincere apologies for the suffering you endured due to the actions of those who to chose to take my unrelated and largely-already-resolved issues and turn them into digital grenades to get flung in your direction, and piling on to your existing troubles. That was never my desire, my intention, nor even a possibility in my head. I have no reason to wish harm upon any of you, and I should have done more to try to stop my would-be-defenders once they started. This was simply a business dispute. These things happen, and they aren't personal. I know I can't undo the past, but I can work for a better future. We all can. And again, hey harassers, STOP! It was never your problem. It's mine, and it's resolved.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go learn from my experiences. Sorry for any inconvenience.